Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kumar: Citizens must know right and wrong without legislation


GOOD ADVICE: Chief executive officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce, Catherine Kumar, centre, greets chairman of Nova Committee Jerome Chambers, right, while CEO of Solution By Simulation Nigel Henry looks on during the launch of the Caribbean SME Business Conference, Innovation in Business the Caribbean Experience, at the Chamber Building, Columbus Circle, Westmoorings, yesterday. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Mark Fraser

The country has to rise to a level where citizens know what is right and wrong even without legislation in place, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce chief executive Catherine Kumar said yesterday.

“Our country needs further development, and granted we are still learning, but the learning curve should not be so steep because we have other countries that have passed this road and we could have learned from them,” Kumar told reporters at the Chamber’s Westmoorings headquarters.

She was responding to questions about what the potential impact on economic confidence could be given the controversy surrounding a 659,588 share purchase during state-owned bank First Citizens’ initial public offer by the bank’s now fired chief risk officer Philip Rahaman. Rahaman subsequently sold the majority of those shares to holdings controlled by his relatives; the transactions were brokered by Bourse Securities, of which Independent Senator and chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange (TTSE) Subhas Ramkhelawan is managing director.

“There’s now a discussion about (having an independent chairman of the TTSE) because of what has happened, but why didn’t we as a nation realise before that the stock exchange should have had an independent chairman. Because owning a stock broking firm means you are doing transactions on the very same stock exchange. It certainly doesn’t provide for independence. It’s legislation, yes, but you don’t want to have to legislate for everything. Governance is very important. Good corporate governance and governance with everyone, even in our personal lives to know what is right and wrong,” Kumar said.

Nothing (about this controversy) that has happened is really good for the economy, she said, but notwithstanding, the local financial sector is still strong. First Citizens itself, she said, is still financially sound, and even though since the Rahaman scandal stock prices have plummeted almost $8 since its $42 peak in January. Her personal feeling is that this was temporary.

However, she said, there may have been a lack of governance at the board level of the bank to not have policies to restrict the number of shares (available to executives). 

Kumar, who also spoke at the Chamber’s media launch for its annual Caribbean Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Business Conference, said there was need to amend the country’s legislation regarding venture capital financing and bankruptcy laws. 

“Venture capitals legislation is not very user friendly and needs to be amended. The incentives for encouraging SMEs to list on the stock exchange are not encouraging enough. Bankruptcy laws also need to be amended. Do we really give our entrepreneurs the chance to fail and restart? We are not going to have 100 per cent success (with every SME) but we have to know failure rate is higher. We must give entrepreneurs the opportunity to restart. We need bankruptcy laws to be amended to allow someone not to get blacklisted from a creditor and not be allowed to get loans,” she said.